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Writing with SEO in mind: 7 things to consider

Content writing is an art that is vastly undervalued. While anyone can technically put some copy together, making said copy come to life and truly shine takes true skill. I’m not an expert writer and I am certainly not here to preach that I know some super secret that will make everyone’s copy better but, over my many years of working with various writers, I have found they appreciate being exposed to some basic SEO concepts that they can take forward to improve their web based copy and how they broach or sell what is often called SEO copywriting.

From a purely selfish point of view, the more I can educate the people I work with on the fundamentals of SEO and how what they do can effect organic success, the better. Organic search continues to yield success for businesses that take is seriously and content remains the primary driver.

A well-planned SEO content strategy can result in great long-term results

Below I have drawn out parts of my intro to SEO for copywriters deck and hopefully – feel free to let me know if I have failed – put together a list of things that will help you on your copywriting journey.

7 things to consider when writing for SEO

  1. Write with purpose
  2. Don’t write solely to rank
  3. Consider the broader user journey
  4. If in doubt, ask for feedback
  5. Validate your writing
  6. Consider structure
  7. Research the competition

 

  • Write with purpose

When writing, it’s important to ask yourself what the ultimate goal of the content is. Are you writing to inform users of a new product feature? Is it a thought leadership piece, intended to position you as an established voice in your industry? Perhaps the goal is to provide users with a guide to assist in their research or understanding of a topic.

Reflect on that purpose from a user’s perspective. What is their intent? What is there purpose for reading your content? Within SEO we talk about intent a lot but really it is a fundamental of everything we do online.

• What questions might they have? (Using ‘people also ask‘ can help you here)
• What is their prior level of knowledge – do they need basic concepts explaining?
• What level of information do they need? Is 200 words enough to cover the subject, or is it more suited to a long-form piece?
• How far along the journey might they be?​ Do they need lots of info, or just reassurance? Does it make sense to hard sell to them at this stage?​
• How does the user best consume information? Is text the best fit?

There are plenty of things to think about. Ultimately, whatever your answers to the above, your user is human, and they’re searching the web for a reason. Make sure your content is answering their burning questions, make sure it’s easy to read, and make sure it’s engaging.

  • Don’t write solely to rank

This feels odd saying this as an SEO professional, but ranking should not be the sole goal of your content. The truth is not all content ranks, and let’s face it, if it doesn’t rank top five it might as well not be ranking, especially if the search intent is informational.

Take this article, it isn’t written to rank for SEO content or any variation, it is written to provide some insight for people who are visiting the site and might be interested in copywriting tips. It likely isn’t going to outrank Yoast but it might help five people if it gets shared socially.

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Using Google’s ‘People also ask’ can help you understand user intent
  • Consider the broader user journey

How do users arrive at your content, and where do they go from here? Perhaps you have the perfect article lined up for some further reading – that’s great. Including links to relevant pages is an ideal way to demonstrate your expertise on a topic, whilst assisting the user further in their research.

You will find the subject of supporting or secondary content talked about a lot in SEO. It is even mentioned in the Google Quality Rater Guidelines. We interlink related content together to create a stronger understanding that we are experts in a broader subject.

Another thing to consider is how users get to your content from elsewhere. Sharing your content socially is great but if you have genuinely written something that you want to be read (see my last point) then you should be linking to it from elsewhere. Can someone easily discover my best content from elsewhere on the site or is it hidden away in the blog where nobody ever goes?

  • If in doubt, ask for feedback

It’s easy to get lost in the words. Take a step back and ask a colleague for their thoughts on your content. Ask them to relay the key points back to you. Have they taken it in, or did they lose interest? Have you conveyed your message in the right format? Do they understand what the goal is? You may have missed something glaringly obvious.

Seeking feedback is always beneficial, even for the most seasoned writers.

  • Validate your writing

Expanding on the above – checking in with someone who doesn’t understand the subject matter is a great way to validate your content. Have you explained key concepts in an easily digestible way? If someone who has no prior knowledge of the topic can read the content and understand your main objectives, it’s a clear sign that it’s well-written.

Even if your content is intended for highly knowledgeable end users, this is a handy task to perform. Google loves simplicity. And, to quote Einstein, ‘If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you probably don’t understand it yourself’.

  • Consider the structure

To quote the rock group Extreme (yep, directly after an Einstein quote),​ content often needs to be “More than words!”​. It’s important to ensure that your content structure is optimised for SEO – making use of headers, images, links and other relevant pages in order to maximise performance.

Most websites have a common structure:​

  1. Navigation​
  2. Ads​
  3. Header Image​
  4. Content​
  5. Sidebar​
  6. Footer

​This structure can be used – along with structural tagging such as HTML5 – to break a page in to pieces.​ These pieces are treated differently by search engines, and are assigned different levels of weight when working out the overall value of the page.

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A common way to structure content

Alongside content readability, structure is used to further break the content into chunks:

  1. Main title​
  2. Executive summary​
  3. Sub title 1​
  4. Paragraph 1​
  5. Paragraph 2​
  6. Sub title 2​
  7. Paragraph 3​

Have you structured your content in a way that makes life easy for the reader? Many users will simply skim your content, only taking in the title, introduction, headings and subheadings, pictures and so on. Make sure you’re writing for lazy readers, and Google will reward you.

It’s also essential to think about visibility – is your content immediately visible when a reader lands on the page? How far does the user have to scroll​ to find their answer? Do they need to interact to see the content? Scroll depth, concertinas & tabs​ can all impact user experience – and your rankings. Take away the gimmicks and prioritise accessibility.

  • Research the competition

Research is so important when writing for SEO. What questions are being asked surrounding your main topics?​ What type of content is already ranking? Can you do it better?​

Using a tool such as Semrush’s Organic Research, or Surfer’s SERP Analyzer can help you to dig deep into the top-ranking pages for your target keyword. What are the other websites on the first page of the SERP offering the users? Are they covering the full topic, or have questions been left unanswered? How many words is the sweet spot to hit position one?

If you don’t have access to an SEO tool, even doing a quick Google will help you assess the competition and find potential opportunities to fill a gap.

Example: How to write content that ranks, fast

We published an article outlining our thoughts on Google’s indexifembedded meta tag, which soon began to rank highly and generate a nice stream of traffic. This win wasn’t purely by chance – we followed the above process when researching, writing and optimising the content.

• What was the purpose of the content?

The current guidance on offer was confusing, and there were no clear examples of how to use the meta tag.

• Who were the target users?

Anyone looking to understand more about the tag.

• What other content was already out there?

Diddly squat other than people rehashing the Google announcement.

• What level of information do people need in order to understand the subject?​

We needed to consider users of all knowledge levels, which meant we needed to explain key concepts such as iframes​​. (Yep, we also validated the content by running it by team members outside of the SEO department).

• Could we write something better than the existing content?

Hell yeah!

So, did it work?

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Hitting page one of the SERPs

The results speak for themselves. In addition to some pretty sweet shares and mentions on Twitter, we also positioned ourselves second in the search rankings, with only Google’s original announcement ahead of us.

By applying SEO best practices, common sense and subtle call to actions, you can maximise the performance of your content whilst minimising interruption ​to the user experience.

When your SEO-optimised content hits those all-important search positions, it’s a rewarding experience, and the results will follow.

About the Author:

Malcolm is our Performance Director with over 15 years experience in the industry. He has actively worked with leading brands including Ann Summers, Debenhams, Waterstones, PrettyLittleThing, Gym Shark, Savills, The ASA, RICS and many others, and continues to be very hands-on. With a degree in Computing, his specialities are Technical SEO and teaching others.